The Gippsland Lakes Aquatic Trail (GLAT) is just the type of hero project our region needs; it will be attractive to locals and visitors alike, respects and includes the Gunaikurnai people, encourages active immersion in nature, is educational and can provide economic opportunities to a range of businesses and towns.
But before we completely dive into the GLAT, let’s wet our ankles on the importance of tourism to Gippsland. Did you know that the region attracted a record seven million visitors in the year ending March 2019, or that it generates an estimated $1 billion for our local economy? This level of expenditure supports 13,271 direct and indirect jobs, which represents 11.6% of the regional economy. This gains further significance when you consider that many of the region’s traditional industries are in decline or transitioning to a new future.
For the release of the Gippsland Destination Management Plan, Gippslandia Ambassador and former chair of the Gippsland Regional Partnership, Maree McPherson, outlined the importance in “identifying opportunities to strengthen our tourism offerings, lift visitor numbers and improve the resilience and adaptive capacity of Gippsland”.
The Plan highlights the challenge “to maximise the region’s proximity to Melbourne, create high value experiences that encourage new visitors to travel to the region” and much more.
To do so, Gippsland can do better in showcasing our mighty fine natural and cultural assets. As Destination Gippsland’s Dave Elder adds, “allowing visitors to experience Australia’s largest inland waterway in ways currently not offered in Gippsland or, to our knowledge, elsewhere in Australia” is exactly the type of exceptional experience we need.
The GLAT concept is highlighted by a signature experience — a four-day, three-night journey taking in our magnificent coastline, estuaries, beaches, views, Aboriginal history, unique wildlife and local produce via cycling, walking or paddling. It will be designed as a self-guided or exclusive fully-serviced and catered experience appealing to cultural, nature and adventure based tourists. This is complemented by a series of alternative itineraries to appeal to a broad range of visitors and Gippslanders alike. This allows you to curate the adventure that best suits you around the Gippsland Lakes.
It feels disturbingly cliché, but there really does feel like there’s something for everyone. While several in the Gippslandia team would be itching to whip their bike along the Colquhoun single track or kayak all day. We can similarly envisage our older aunts being absolutely rapt with the heritage cruise.
In learning the details of the trails, a couple of key points immediately leapt out at us. For one, all these very different visitors will require diverse accommodation and dining options as they travel through the region.
Professor Bruce Wilson of RMIT University, a partner in the GS3 initiative, adds that, “One strong benefit of the Lakes Aquatic Trail is that some of the new trail infrastructure will have more general, valuable community benefits. Inevitably, there will be spillovers right across the regional economy”.
Another observation was the respect accorded to Gunaikurnai culture and Country. The Gunaikurnai, through the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC), jointly manage the Gippsland Coastal Park and the Lakes National Park and it is envisaged they will play a pivotal role in the GLAT experience.
Dave adds that “GLaWAC have representation on the project innovation group, sitting alongside a range of key stakeholders such as land managers, tourism operators, community and education representatives.
“The pre-feasibility study has identified a range of opportunities for traditional owners, which will be explored further with GLaWAC, through the detailed design and business case stage of the project, which is currently underway.”
Hearteningly, there are continual increases in the number of visitors that wish to authentically engage with traditional owners and their culture when they travel. The Aboriginal Art Gallery and Bush Café located at Forestec, and Nyerimilang Heritage Park feature as trail heads, or are recommended as the first stop a visitor makes before embarking on a trail. Consultation and collaboration with GLaWAC on items such as signage, guiding and the development of accommodation could make these trails a more enriching experience.
The next stage of the GLAT project is the research and production of the Full Feasibility, Business Case and Detailed Design reports, which are currently underway. These will identify the economic and employment benefits of the project and, hopefully, continue building momentum for the implementation of this new intrepid resource for Gippsland’s visitor economy.
In a tribute to the famous film that showcased Miss Tyler’s song, we can’t wait for the holiday, when we can be footloose and fancy-free in getting out and exploring the Gippsland Lakes Aquatic Trail.
Trail #1 (the signature experience) begins in Lakes Entrance and concludes at Loch Sport, taking in Bancroft Bay, a kayaking loop of Rigby Island, explorations of Bunga Arm, Ocean Grange, the Ninety Mile Beach and Gellung-war (Rotamah Island), as well as a walk around Sperm Whale Head.
Trail #2 is more accessible and easy to engage with as it ventures around Paynesville, Eagle Point and Raymond Island.
Trail #3 focusses on the lake and island landscapes of Sperm Whale Head and Gellung-war, and can be either land or water-based.
Trail #4 explores the tributary rivers of Lake Tyers, but is more bike-centric as you visit two of Lakes Entrance’s best rail trails with options to explore the existing singletrack of two mountain biking parks: Colquhoun and Nowa Nowa. This trail also allows you to dive into the area’s creative scene.
Trail #5 is described as ‘perhaps the most genteel of the suite with flexibility as to how active visitors prefer to be’, as visitors choose between boarding a heritage cruise or paddling in the Latrobe River. The trail features Bataluk Cultural Trail, the Ramsar-listed wetlands and the Nunduk Spa Retreat, finishing at the Gippsland Art Gallery.